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An Introduction to Archaeology (10 credit points)

Course Times & Enrolment

Mondays from 25th September 2023 (Code AC089-106) Mondays from
25th September 2023 6:30pm - 8:20pm • (10 classes)
LG49 Paterson's Land, Holyrood Campus • Tutor: Dr Alex Hale MIFA FSAScot
This course is now closed for enrolments

Course Summary

An introduction to some of the fundamental principles of archaeology. This course will combine examinations of various archaeological sites and periods, with an exploration of the history of the subject and the methods and skills involved.

Please note, this course includes a field trip (walking tour of Edinburgh).

Course Details

Content of Course

1. Introduction and a History of Archaeology

Introduction to archaeology and an outline of the course. How do we know what we know about archaeology, and why it’s important to know the origins of the subject. We will cover the early antiquarians, the budding scholars and bring students up to date with the range of ways archaeology is practiced and utilised today.

2. Archaeological Theories, Thinking and Trends

During an exploration of the different types of archaeological theories and how they influence interpretation, we shall consider the great thinkers from across the discipline. We will look at how archaeological theories are developed, whilst acknowledging the contexts during which they came about and how external factors can affect archaeological thought.

3. Archaeological Methods and Practices

This week we will explore a range of methods that have been applied to archaeological issues, from scientific dating techniques to digital survey and mapping practices. This week will be an exploration of the impact of science on archaeology and how art has influenced our ways of seeing the past.

4. Early Prehistory: from the Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic

The next six weeks will delve deeper into looking at the different archaeological time periods. We will start with an introduction to the earliest period of human life on earth (the Palaeolithic) through to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods; what we know, what we don’t know and what the evidence indicates.

5. Later Prehistory: from the Early Bronze Age to the late Iron Age

A look at the transition from stone to metal tools through the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. By studying sites and artefact evidence we will consider changes in culture, technologies and settlement patterns.

6. Romans, Early Historic and Medieval Archaeologies

This week combines a history of the Roman Empire and its impact on Britain, with discovering the Picts and the impact of the Norse in Scotland. Rather than this being a period known as the Dark Age, we will discover some of the complex societies that existed and the contributions they made to cultural, social, political and economic systems, that we can still find echoes of today.

7. World Archaeology

We will explore archaeological sites, theories and methods from around the globe. This week offers the students an opportunity to explore a place and period of their choice, and to share with the class their understanding of a past culture. This week will be fully interactive and the tutor will enable students to explore the archaeological evidence of their choice.

8. Industrial Archaeology

Our world today comprises evidence of our past industrialisation. This week is an exploration of industrial archaeology; from its origins in the 1960s to its current trends. We will look at how archaeology can tell us about the 17, 18 and 19th centuries from a range of sites in Scotland, Britain and beyond.

9. The Archaeology of Us

This week brings the subject up to date by looking at how archaeology can be applied to the recent past and the present. We shall discuss the concepts of ‘archaeologies of the contemporary past’; consider how archaeology has become a critically reflective subject that is relevant today and can help us understand our world. We will look at some cutting-edge examples of contemporary archaeology projects, ranging from the excavation of a Transit van to landscapes of graffiti.

10. Archaeological Edinburgh - Field trip

A walking tour of Edinburgh, pointing out some of the major archaeological sites and historic buildings of the city. This session will close with the course summary and conclusions.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Identify the methods and theories involved in archaeological exploration and interpretation.

  • Have an awareness of key periods in archaeology.

  • Critically examine the evidence from archaeological sites, and the methods used in identifying these.

  • Analyse different types of evidence (i.e. documentary and physical, primary and secondary) and draw reasonable conclusions from this.

  • Formulate an informed view and have a basic grounding in archaeology.


Core Readings

  • Buchli, V. and Lucas, G. 2001. Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past. London: Routledge.

  • Gamble, C. 2000. Archaeology: The Basics. London: Routledge.

  • Greene, K. 2002. Archaeology: An Introduction. London: Routledge

  • Johnson, M. 2010. Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. Chichester. Blackwell

  • Renfrew, C. and Bahn, P. 2016. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London: Thames & Hudson.

  • Trigger, B. 1989. A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


10 credit courses have one assessment. Normally, the assessment is a 2000 word essay, worth 100% of the total mark, submitted by week 12. To pass, students must achieve a minimum of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

Studying for Credit

If you choose to study for credit you will need to allocate significant time outwith classes for coursework and assessment preparation. Credit points gained from this course can count towards the Certificate of Higher Education.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.